Watchdog uncovers energy ads confusion

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Some adverts promising free energy and large discounts are leaving consumers duped at best but often out of pocket, according to an investigation.

Which? found that one ad for Southern Electric (SSE) claiming to make customers up to £100 richer could have ended up actually costing people £133. Another ad for E.ON offering two months’ worth of free energy saved people just £4.

The watchdog monitored energy company ads for more than a year. It found that seven ads were “strictly speaking” correct, but could be misleading.

The SSE ad promised that consumers would be up to £100 richer if they switched to its capped tariff. A survey by Which? found 80% of people agreed that this implied they would be £100 better off.

But Which? said: “This is a capped tariff. Prices can’t go up for two years but can go down.

“Assuming prices don’t change, an average user would pay £233 more a year than the cheapest deal. Even with £100 off, they’d be £133 poorer.”

Customers taking up a promise in an E.ON ad of two months of free energy were automatically excluded from the normal discounts of 8 per cent for taking dual fuel and paying by direct debit, leaving an actual saving of just 0.33 per cent or a £3.80 saving on the average annual bill.

E.ON said: “We’re sorry this ad was confusing. Following feedback we withdrew this tariff and now have a far clearer, simpler range with no more than five tariffs to choose from.”

SSE told the consumer group: “SSE has fair prices and simple products. Our capped tariff ensures prices won’t go up for two years and customers get £100 credit. We will take your findings on board.”

Which? energy expert Sylvia Baron said: “I was shocked at how easy it is to interpret ads incorrectly. The complexity of energy tariffs means it’s little wonder that the people we asked thought most of the offers in the ads in this article were good deals.”

n Which? surveyed 1,075 members of the public about the ads in October.